Zim to miss 2015 tobacco target

HARARE - Zimbabwe is likely to miss its 2015 tobacco target of 220 million kilogrammes due to poor weather and handling losses, Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) chief executive Andrew Matibiri told businessdaily.

The development will dent revival of the country’s agriculture sector, targeted at boosting production of key crops such as tobacco.

Matibiri said Zimbabwe would be fortunate to reach the 2014 level of 216  million kilogrammes.

Already, the crop’s marketing and selling season, which traditionally starts mid-February, has been delayed.

Zimbabwe — which raked in about $$680 million from tobacco sales last year — badly needs revenue from the cash crop, which contributes over 10 percent to its gross domestic product.

At its peak, in 2000, the country produced 237 million kilogrammes before hitting an all-time low of around   40 million kilogrammes in 2008.

Matibiri said erratic rains that characterised the early stages of the 2014/2015 season and subsequent flooding in January this year significantly impacted on the golden leaf’s farming.

“…some crops were water logged… and we had incidents of hail storms damaging the crop and barns in other areas,” he said, adding that “all this will impact on the volumes”.

“To cure the crop, you need barns and in some areas these were damaged by the storms. This usually results in some of the tobacco getting lost in the process,” he added.

Over the years, tobacco farming has become the preferred cash crop for most Zimbabwean farmers, particularly subsistence.

Agriculture experts say more Zimbabweans seem to be shifting from maize production to tobacco due to its better income generation.

In 2014, more than      105 000 farmers took up tobacco production earning the country at least $660 million.

The majority of the farmers are under contract farming and this has seen many foreign companies, enter into farming deals with local growers who cannot afford inputs and others costs.

In the early 2000s, Zimbabwe was the second-largest exporter of flue-cured tobacco — a high-quality, lucrative crop — but the sector’s fortunes reversed suddenly with the controversial land reform aimed at addressing colonial land imbalances. The upheaval devastated the country’s agricultural sector for over a decade.

However, steady gains by black Zimbabwean tobacco farmers have raised production of the crop closer to pre-reform levels and may help salvage the country’s struggling export sector.

Statistics released by TIMB this week revealed that Zimbabwe earned about $196 million from 27 million kilogrammes of tobacco exported between last month and mid-February.

The bulk of the exports were to China which snapped up 19,1 million kilogrammes valued at $167 million, while exports to South Africa were two million kilogrammes netting $7,89 million.

About 936 000 kilogrammes of tobacco worth $3,4 million was exported to Mauritius while Russia imported 887 200 kilogrammes valued at $1,8 million and the United Arab Emirates imported 650 034 kilogrammes valued at $2,57 million.

Zimbabwe’s tobacco production, which is one of the largest in Africa, is however plagued with several challenges including inadequate electricity capacity to cure tobacco leaves, which has led to wanton deforestation for firewood.


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